The coveted seats in the neon-lit, “Teddy A” room at Tomorrow 2013, the fifth Israeli Presidential Conference, filled up in about five minutes.
Why the hubbub? President Peres’s honored guests, Hollywood actors Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone, were appearing in person at this particular panel about life, work and all things Israel, hosted by Channel 2 correspondent Uri Segal.
For those who had been hoping to catch a glimpse of the two Hollywood A-listers, this was possibly the only opportunity before both headed off with their personal entourages.
The two stars shared the stage with some political and financial heavy-hitters, including John Chambers, CEO of Cisco; John Baird, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs; Boris Collardi, chief executive officer of the Julius Baer Group, one of Switzerland’s largest wealth management banks; and Weili Dai, cofounder of the semiconductor company Marvell Technology.
Segal, who spoke to each guest alone in front of the avid crowd, frequently diverted the conversations to reflect Israel’s current political climate. Stone and De Niro, the Hollywood A-listers, offered a lighter, more playful take on the conflict.
“I always enjoy coming to Israel. Israelis are warm, they’re energetic people. Forthright. Very smart. I always like smart people. They’re nice people, you know,” De Niro said, speaking about his interactions with Israeli citizens. “Aggressive, and I respect that aggressiveness because you need it in their situation.”
Stone, who sat on the podium in a short red dress, her blonde hair perfectly coiffed, has visited Israel several times through her work with YaLa, an online organization for peace in the Middle East. She said she often compares the work she does with YaLa, helping young people communicate peacefully with their neighbors, to her experiences as an AIDS activist.
“I look at the absence of peace as a fatal disease,” Stone said. “If we get into the deep-rooted history of the conflict, we’ll never see peace, and that’s fatal.”
Stone also offered some choice tidbits about this latest trip, sharing the news that her 13-year-old son, Roan — whom Stone, a Buddhist, adopted as a baby with former husband, Phil Bronstein, a Jew — celebrated his bar mitzva on Tuesday at the Western Wall. She also commented on the now-viral Instagram photo of Stone and a fan, who happened to be wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with her “Basic Instinct” photo when they ran into each other in Tel Aviv.
“The guy walked up to me and said ‘I don’t want you to think I’m really creepy,’” Stone said. “And of course, I was instantly in love with him.”
De Niro, who has reportedly kept his distance from the crowds on this trip, was content to keep the audience laughing with his cool-guy-from-New-York-City shtick. He shrugged off any political questions, simply stating he was just happy to be in Israel for Peres’s big birthday bash and defending the length and scope of the Tuesday night event, which was criticized by some.
“I don’t think it was long at all,” said the Academy Award winner. “And I’ve been to some long things.”
When Segal asked for the Hollywood actors’ take on peace in the Middle East, De Niro remained optimistic.
“I hope it all gets worked out; it’s very complicated,” De Niro said. “And if there’s anything I can do to help the situation, I will.”